Why the Oliver Community League did not support the land swap

On April 29, 2019, the City of Edmonton Council voted against the proposed land swap of the former St. John’s School site on 120 Street, currently zoned Urban Services (US), for an equal portion of the northeast corner of Oliver Park on 104 Avenue and 118 Street. The corner of Oliver Park was to be rezoned into a high density residential development, specifically, Site Specific Development Control (DC2), and the former St. John’s School site was to be rezoned to Public Parks Zone (AP).

Brief History

The former St. John’s site was originally owned by the Catholic School Board. It decided to surplus the land and gave the City of Edmonton (CoE) an option to purchase it. City Administration declined without informing the Oliver Community League (OCL) they had been provided an option to purchase it. The OCL saw this as a missed opportunity to purchase a piece of land for public use. Abbey Lane Homes (current owner of the former St. John’s site) proposed 2 towers (10 & 12 storey) side by side on the site. The towers would shadow on one third of the community garden during prime growing season. The proposal was never submitted for a public hearing and Council consideration. Around the time of Abbey Lane Home’s proposal of 2 towers, the OCL was forced to tear down our community hall due to extensive disrepair (you can read about the community hall disrepair HERE). A resident suggested that a land swap be considered in order to save the community garden.

After numerous discussions and research with different city departments, the developer, community experts, and community members, the OCL voted not to support the land swap and advocated for Council to vote against it. OCL’s reasons for not supporting the land swap are included below.

Development in Oliver

As a dense community of approximately 18,000 people, the 2016 census shows that more than 98% of residents in OCL live in rental apartments or apartment style condos. This indicates that more than 17,000 people do not have access to private green spaces like many Edmontonians, but instead must rely on public, shared park spaces. Open green spaces are the “living rooms” for Oliver residents.

The OCL tallied all built, approved, and proposed development since 2016 – our population is expected to increase by 45%. Oliver’s future population growth requires the support of park and recreation spaces. Click HERE for a great visual that Justin Keats, our volunteer OCL Garden Director created to show what we can expect in the near future with development in Oliver.

While it may be technically correct that the land swap proposal did not lead to a net loss of park space, we questioned whether our existing park space would be sufficient to accommodate a growing population. Our green space per capita would reduce from 0.76 ha/1000 residents to 0.5 ha/1000 residents given our expected population increase.

The reduction to 0.5 ha/1000 residents is much lower than the suggested 2 ha/1000 residents and 1.1 ha/1000 residents found in the above reports.

The 104 Avenue Corridor Area Redevelopment Plan (104 Ave ARP) was passed by the City of Edmonton Council in 2016. The land swap would increase the deficit of green space facing the 104 Avenue Corridor. This is the opposite of the 104 Ave ARP’s recommendations. In fact, the 104 Ave ARP states that, “Oliver Park is an essential amenity to the Corridor and surrounding neighborhood” and “that community involvement is required in the redevelopment of Oliver Park to enhance its design and functionality.”

Importance of Recreational Space

Oliver Park is the only full block of land the City of Edmonton owns in Oliver. It is the only park with active recreation facilities for our residents – the pool and the arena. OCL knows the future of these two facilities is somewhat unknown. For years we have been asking for a community needs assessment – including robust public engagement – to create a recreation plan for Oliver. We are still waiting. We believe it is crucial to understand what this community needs, given our growing population and the drive to attract more families to live in Oliver.

Because this assessment has not been done, OCL conducted an online survey on parks and recreation earlier this year. We received 308 responses, and here are some key results:

  • An EPL branch is the most common facility residents leave Oliver to access. 
  • 75% of respondents use a personal vehicle to access recreation and park spaces outside Oliver.

Given our current and future population, we need to understand this in light of Council’s priority to shift transportation mode. Let’s locate recreation spaces on high capacity transit corridors and within Oliver to encourage other modes of transport.

  • 78% would be more likely to visit a recreation facility if located in Oliver. This is key for health and well being of our residents.
  • 90% use and/or support our community garden in Peace Garden Park. OCL wants to emphasize that protecting Peace Garden Park is also a huge priority, and we are not choosing one over the other. We think both parks can and must be protected.

The City does not know what this community needs in the future for recreation and public spaces. Really, neither does the OCL. By subdividing Oliver Park, the OCL felt is not just putting the cart before the horse, it’s filling the cart when the horse hasn’t been born yet. 

Oliver Park is located on the LRT line. Losing this full city block would also be a loss to the city. Oliver Park could become a district park for the area, for residents along the train line, in Queen Mary Park, Downtown, Glenora, and North Glenora. But that possibility would disappear if the land swap went through.

Sustainability of Oliver’s Community Hall

Oliver Park is the location of the OCL’s Tripartite Agreement land. The Tripartite Agreement is a contract between individual community leagues, the City of Edmonton, and the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (learn more about it HERE). Our hall was located on the site that would be lost if the land swap was approved. In 2017, the board discovered that the wood foundation was rotting, compromising the integrity of the building (read our blog on the topic HERE). After much research and consultation with professionals, the OCL board decided it would be fiscally responsible to demolish the hall. Very shortly after, the developer asked for the land swap.

OCL needs to prioritize fiscal sustainability in developing a new hall – the City requires it, click HERE to see the City’s requirements. A hall located at Oliver Park, in close proximity to the LRT and other facilities, is a more attractive facility for rentals and operation of, say, a day care. Co-locating OCL’s hall with other City of Edmonton recreation facilities in Oliver Park creates a true community hub. This allows for:

  • strategic green space preservation, 
  • optimization of uses, 
  • activation of the space at multiple times of day and throughout the seasons, and 
  • shared and efficient use of infrastructure such as parking and waste removal.

OCL’s process to build a new community hall had been sidelined by the land swap for almost two years. If Council had approved the proposed bylaws, the Tripartite Agreement would have been cancelled, and volunteers would have had to spend even more time and effort negotiating a new space for our hall.

Urban Services Zoning

A false narrative had some believing that Oliver had only one choice – either a tower development on the former St. Johns School site or a tower development on Oliver Park. This narrative left out alternative options.

Current zoning on the former St. John’s School Site is Urban Services, which permits uses that provide for publicly and privately owned facilities of an institutional or community service nature. Click here for the full list of what Urban Services includes. The maximum height for permitted and discretionary uses under this zone is 10.0m, which roughly translates to 3 storeys. A potential proposal for a tower development was submitted to the community for a discussion over a year ago, however, no such proposal has been approved by Council. This was not a ‘one or the other’ situation.

The 104 Ave ARP, rezoned all private land along 104 Ave. This plan allows for even more tower development and population increase. OCL supported the 104 Ave ARP. In fact, OCL pushed for residential development at the Brewery District. The OCL is not against towers on 104 Ave. We are against compromising park space for a tower development we don’t need.

Oliver Park Assets

According to the 2016 census, there are approximately 600 children living in Oliver, which is the same number of children living in the Westmount community. The OCL has often heard from former community members who moved out of the neighbourhood after having children. They loved Oliver and embraced living in Edmonton’s core with its walkable streets, bike lanes, proximity to work and services and mixed density. They and other families have many reasons for leaving Edmonton’s core, but a lack of family friendly, community amenities is often cited as one of the top reasons. 

The Child Friendly Edmonton Initiative is encouraging more families to live in and access amenities in Edmonton’s Core and in order to attract families and have them live in Oliver, we need to have family-friendly community amenities. As mentioned above, open green spaces are the “living rooms” for our residents and currently Oliver Park and Peace Garden Park helps to meet those needs. And this is crucial because there are less backyards with our mixed development neighbourhood. Before demolishing the OCL Hall, Oliver Park was used as a community gathering place for community league events. Oliver Park is a community hub.

Lack of Community Amenity Contributions

The replacement costs of trees and playground were included in the community amenity contributions and not at full replacement value. The community amenity contributions should be adding assets to the community, not replacing assets that would be removed by a private development – Click HERE to learn more about Community Amenity Contributions.

The OCL felt that replacement costs for the trees and the playground should not have been part of the community amenity contributions, rather the proposal should at least have fully replaced what was being lost. Had the land swap been approved, the new playground and new trees on the former St. John’s School site would not have been built by the developer. The developer was only required to grade and sod the former St. John’s site before the exchange took place. 

There were approximately 50 mature trees that were being impacted by the proposal. These trees were assessed by the City of Edmonton Urban Foresters and valued at $187,000. The developer was only proposing contribution in the amount of $33,000, within the community amenity contributions. 

The OCL worked with Citizen Services at the City of Edmonton and our Neighbourhood Resource Coordinator to estimate what replacing our playground would cost. Our estimation for the cost came to ~$500,000 to replace the park, but the developer had only included $200,000 in the community amenity contributions towards the playground. None of these costs include the public consultations and construction costs that would be required to make the former St. John’s School site into a park. Overall, Oliver and the City would need to invest an additional ~$500,000 into the community to get us back to where we are today.

The City report stated that any work would not commence on the former St. John’s School site for at least two years and still had no commitment on funding or design. This lack of details, funding commitment, and planning would mean that the site wouldn’t be developed for many years. The development of the former St. John’s School site would require additional funding and many more volunteer hours, which the OCL does not have capacity for.  

Fair and Transparent Process

The OCL felt strongly that if Council believed that the land swap was in the best interest of the community and Edmontonians, then they should have a robust and transparent process to dispose of surplus land: 

  1. The City should buy the former St. John’s School Site, 
  2. The City should conduct a community needs assessment to determine what is in the best interest of the community, and 
  3. If it is determined that this portion of Oliver Park can be surplused, 
  4. Subdivide Oliver Park and go through the proper channel to dispose of surplus land through a fair and transparent competitive public offering.

The process that the land swap proposal was going through was neither robust nor transparent. Click HERE to learn more about the City of Edmonton’s process of property sales.


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